This weekend, Texas Tech saw three players selected in the NFL draft, while Pete Robertson was signed shortly after as an undrafted free agent. Texas Tech hasn’t had three players taken in the same draft since 2009 when four Red Raiders (Michael Crabtree, Darcel McBath, Louis Vasquez, and Brandon Williams) were selected by NFL franchises.
Last year, no Red Raiders were drafted, but WR Bradley Marquez was signed as an undrafted free agent with the St. Louis (now Los Angeles) Rams. Marquez made the final roster and had a decent rookie season, playing in all 16 games and hauling in 13 receptions in addition to contributing on special teams.
In 2014, TE Jace Amaro was drafted in the 2nd round and LB Will Smith was drafted in the 7th round, ending a drought of no Red Raiders being drafted since Baron Batch, a 7th rounder in 2011.
Developing talent is arguably one of the most important metrics for a college football coach. While recruiting has taken on a life of its own within the sport, coaches are sometimes criticized for not developing the talent of a particular recruiting class.
In other words, it leaves something to be desired if a certain recruiting class is loaded with four and five star prospects yet they never seem to put it all together on the field. Over the past five years or so, the University of Texas has been the poster child of this critique. The Longhorns consistently sign top five recruiting classes, yet they have produced less and less NFL prospects during their underwhelming recent seasons.
Though Kliff Kingsbury didn’t recruit any of the players who were drafted during his tenure as head coach, it’s worth asking if he and his staff have a knack for developing talent given the recent uptick in NFL prospects coming out of Lubbock.
Jace Amaro was recruited by former Texas Tech coach Tommy Tuberville. He was the number one TE in the country coming out of high school, so the talent was always there, but his production was limited in his first two seasons as a Red Raider (in part due to injury). After Kingsbury took over, Amaro became the best collegiate TE in the nation, and was discussed as a potential 1st round pick.
DeAndre Washington was a backup to Kenny Williams when Kingsbury arrived in 2013. Fast forward to today, and Washington was drafted in the 5th round by Oakland after becoming the first Red Raider RB to rush for over 1,000 yards since 1995-1996. That’s quite the transition.
Bradley Marquez went from a role player in Kingsbury’s first season at the helm to contributing as a rookie in the NFL in 2015. Pete Robertson was always talented but raw, yet he led the Big 12 in sacks his junior season and was picked up by one of the NFL’s best defenses as an undrafted free agent in the Seattle Seahawks.
With Le’Raven Clark going in the 3rd round to the Colts and Jakeem Grant also being drafted later by the Dolphins, this trend hardly seems like a coincidence.
Kingsbury is surely not solely to credit for the increase in Red Raiders making it to the NFL. But it is becoming increasingly clear that one of his strong suits is assembling a coaching staff who can develop players in college to prepare them for the next level.
This is important for two reasons:
First, it means Texas Tech doesn’t necessarily need five star prospects to have a good team. If the coaching staff in Lubbock can consistently turn three star kids into NFL players, they’ll be in good shape on the field.
Second, and along similar lines, it’s a huge recruiting tool. If Kingsbury and his staff can go into a recruit’s living room, look him in the eye and say “if you come play for us, we can coach you into an NFL caliber player just like we did with (insert the name of any Red Raider in the NFL)”, we should start seeing an influx of talented prospects arriving at Texas Tech. The opportunity to make it to the next level is extremely appealing to most prospects.
A little patience can go a long way with this coaching staff. In a few more years after they have cycled all the way through multiple recruiting classes, I wouldn’t be surprised if three or four Red Raiders were making NFL rosters on an annual basis.
I know everyone wants to put up a big number in the win column, and it hasn’t quite happened with the current regime. But make no mistake, this coaching staff can develop talent. I truly believe the wins are coming if we give Kingsbury time to mold this program from top to bottom.
Texas Tech is still recovering in some ways from Tommy Tuberville’s lack of recruiting towards the end of his tenure. Just look at Kingsbury being forced to field multiple true freshmen and walk-ons during his first couple of seasons as evidence of that.
But all signs point to Kingsbury’s staff being more than capable of recruiting solid players out of high school and developing their talent over time, and there might not be a more desirable trait in a college football coaching staff. Four Red Raiders being picked up by NFL teams this year is the most positive sign that Kingsbury is the right man to lead Texas Tech that I’ve seen to date.